Hawaii County Council says ‘no thanks’ to money for Mauna Kea enforcement

Bird's eye view from Puuhuluhulu.
Bird's eye view from Puuhuluhulu.(Hawaii News Now)
Published: Dec. 18, 2019 at 5:15 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii County Council voted unanimously Wednesday not to accept a deal that would allow the state to reimburse the county for costs associated with the TMT protest, citing a variety of grievances with the Big Island’s mayor and police department.

The agreement was negotiated by Mayor Harry Kim and Attorney General Clare Connors last month to establish a mechanism for state funds to flow to the county for police overtime tied to the protests.

Officers have been a presence at Mauna Kea Access Road and on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway since mid-July when activists who call themselves protectors blocked only way to the summit.

The agreement has a five-year term and was accompanied by legislation that would allow up to $10 million in reimbursement.

County Attorney Joseph Kamelamela told the council Wednesday that the state has already transferred about $3 million to the county, but it can’t be used until the agreement and the budget bill were accepted by the council.

He pointed out that this was reimbursement for what the county had already spent.

But the council wasn’t swayed by the money.

Some members objected to the process of reaching the agreement that didn’t include the council. Others said the county should not be involved in supporting the controversial telescope, and some were offended that police resources were so focused on one part of the island.

Police Chief Paul Ferreira reported that officers enforcing traffic laws on the highway had issued more than 8,000 tickets.

Councilman Matt Kaneali’i-Kleinfelder pointed out that those 8,000 tickets were issued on a 10-mile stretch of highway, and can’t really be tied to the Mauna Kea protests.

He asked Ferreira, “Please understand how someone speeding by the state park can be made what you consider protest activities.”

Ferreira said officers assigned on overtime to Mauna Kea to support state law enforcement officers were also enforcing traffic laws. He took issue that some council members considered that “appalling,” arguing that the additional enforcement was catching many unsafe drivers.

“Yes, it is appalling that 8,000 citations were issued but the real question that I have is why do we continue to issue that many citations? Why is this still happening?” Ferreira said. “We have publicized this up one side and down the other in the media."

Ferreira said officers on Saddle Road have also arrested 22 drunk drivers. He mentioned that traffic fatalities were down 20% on Hawaii Island this year.

But Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter said the department is not doing enough to protect drivers on Queen Kaahumanu Highway on the Kohala Coast, and also objected to the police presence at Mauna Kea.

“With no disrespect to our police chief that is a lame excuse for why we are on the mountain which is occupied by peaceful protectors of the sacred Mauna," she said.

The council chair said more time was needed to sort out the various issues and for council members to hear one another’s concerns and think through their positions.

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